This page lists my experiences with Tiger Barbs. While some of the fish-related Web sites you may find may give you the scientific information, very few of them probably tell you the information in this post. I should point out however that these are my personal experiences, your mileage may vary, not least because Tiger Barbs have very individual personalities.
Firstly though, here are some scientific facts and figures:
Scientific name: Puntius tetrazona
Name: Tiger Barb
Size: 7cm / 3″
pH range: 6.5 – 7.5
dH range: 5 – 19
Temp: 20–25°C / 68–78°F
Although the above information may state 7.5 as maximum for pH, and although many Web sites may state as high as 8, I have to say that Tiger Barbs to prefer a low pH. Once a tank gets old the pH naturally drops and to combat this I put Limestone in the tank, this raised the pH up to 7.8 and although the Guppies sharing the tank were absolutely fine (as were the other water parameters), the Tiger Barbs began to struggle. I would therefore recommend not keeping Tiger Barbs above 7, while contrary to the information above my Tiger Barbs have been absolutely fine as low as 6.2.
Tiger Barbs are very difficult fish to find friends for. They have a mixture of personalities and they will bite even the largest of tank companions. Below is a list of the fish kept with Tiger Barbs in my tanks at one time or another, and what happened with each:
Ramshorn Snails – Yes, my Tiger Barbs have attacked and eaten snails. Ramshorn snails are usually pulled straight out of their shell and the Tigers then do their ‘game‘ which I will explain below.
Mystery Snails – This type of snail is too large to kill, so they simply nibble on them. At times I wonder if I should remove the snails, but as it is usually not the same snail twice in a row I let them be. Occasionally they will appear bored and a group of the Tigers will attack.
Ghost Shrimp – The Tiger Barbs are absolutely fine with Ghost Shrimp and I still have at least one in my largest tank from almost a year ago (I know because I haven’t replaced any and still see him coming out when I feed), however, Tiger Barbs will also attack and kill Ghost Shrimp as a part of the ‘game‘ I’ll explain below.
Peppered Corydoras – These small Cory catfish were treated similarly to Mystery Snails. The Tiger Barbs would seem to get bored and nibble on these fish for amusement. This got bad enough that I no longer keep these fish in the same tank.
Rainbow Shark – This fish was a danger to the Tiger Barbs rather than them being a danger to it. When the shark reached maturity it took to head-butting the Tigers in the gills and this caused visible injuries and two deaths from the 15 Tiger Barbs I had in the tank at the time. The Rainbow Shark showed no signs of aggression when young, but I had to return the Rainbow Shark as it was not a suitable tank mate for Tiger Barbs once mature.
Oscar Fish – Tiger Barbs are no threat to this fish from my experience. However, my Oscar started as around 4″, so a smaller one may become a target. When the Oscar gets larger he may start to attack and eat the Tiger Barbs though.
Red Serpae Tetra – These fish seemed to be accepted by the Tigers immediately. The Tigers seem to realise these fish are not Tiger Barbs, so leave them alone, but the Serpae Tetras seem to think they are Tigers so will try to school with them! Great tankmate for Tiger Barbs.
Guppies Female – Although the Barbs may be interested in Guppies either when first introduced or when bored, the huge majority of the time a large female Guppy will not be bothered by Tiger Barbs.
Guppies Male – Fancy Male Guppies are like a dangling carrot to a Tiger Barb, that swishing tail seems far too attractive to ignore and although I have never experienced any deaths I do not consider them compatible.
Zebra Danios – Zebra Danios are simply too fast to be concerned with Tiger Barbs.
Longfin Zebra Danios – Longfins seem slower than regular Zebra Danios, but I still never saw any issues. There was a definite difference in how much interest was paid to the Longfin Zebra Danios though and I think the Tiger Barbs were interested in biting the fins – but were never fast enough to catch one.
Giant Danios – I have never had a problem keeping Giant Danios and Tiger Barbs together. Of all the fish I have tried and had to either move or sell back to the Pet Store, these are the only one I can confidently say I find a safe bet on a good tank mate. My Giant Danios were added at about 3″ and have since grown to about 4″, smaller fish could be a target but are probably too fast to ever be.
Snowball Bristlenosed Pleco – Tiger Barbs seem scared of fish with black coloring. I never saw them approach this Pleco once to nip fins. He was a small fish, too, and never grew very large.
Common Pleco – The only common Pleco I have had with the Tiger Barbs was added to the tank at about 5″ and is now (at time of writing) about 12″. Amazingly I have seen the Tiger Barbs nibbling at him whenever he goes over ‘their side of the tank’. The Pleco, however, completely ignores them and does not seem irritated. Half the time they seem to be playing with him like this, the rest of the time they actually seem scared to go near him: It’s quite comical and underlines the differences in personalities between Tiger Barbs.
Dragon Goby – This fish was sold to me as a Freshwater semi-aggressive which would have no problem with Tiger Barbs, I soon discovered (with no thanks to the fish store) that not only is it not Freshwater, it is not aggressive in any way. The Dragon Goby was picked on quite horrendously by the Tiger Barbs until I was able to move it into it’s own Brackish (partly salt) tank. It was disturbing to see how they would not give up the chase and would not allow this fish to be free of them.
Neon Tetras – This was probably the most surprising tank mate for Tiger Barbs. These small, mouth-sized fish were never even looked at by my Tiger Barbs and I have had two sets of Tiger Barbs in tanks with two sets of Neon Tetras. If I didn’t think it a risk to have Neon Tetras with Giant Danios, then I would certainly consider Neon Tetras an excellent choice for tank mate alongside them.
Cardinal Tetras – I had Cardinals mixed in with Neon Tetras, see above – same reaction.
So, as mentioned in the compatibility information above, Tiger Barbs do like to be aggressive. One of the interesting things though is how they actually play with their kill and parade it purposely through the rest of the Tiger Barbs almost inviting them to try to take it.
I have seen a single Tiger Barbs on one end of the tank pick up a Ghost Shrimp and swim all the way over to the rest of the Tiger Barbs at the other end with it in it’s mouth, seemingly to start a game… The other Tigers then chase the individual fish and try to take it away: It does usually end up looking like a game is being played. This behavior has been repeated with a baby Guppy and many Ramshorn Snails.
Tiger Barbs will eat anything… ANYTHING!
As I said above, I’ve seen Tiger Barbs eat Snails and Ghost Shrimp alive. I’ve also seen them nibble on other fish and snails quite often.
Tiger Barbs in my tanks also eat algae wafers, sinking catfish wafers, frozen bring shrimp, frozen blood worms and live blood worms without problems or hesitation.
Perhaps most surprising is that I have often seen them eating Pleco feces (I am guessing there are plenty of undigested algae still to be had).
Keep them in groups!
Tiger Barbs need Tiger Barbs. Even with large groups they will nip, eat, play – do all the things I’ve said above – but in smaller numbers, they’ll be even worse.
With a large enough group and a large enough number of males, the huge majority of their time will be spent sorting out dominance. Males will go nose-to-nose and look like they are kissing but infact, they are fighting, see the video below:
As soon as the loser swims away the fight is normally over and the victor gets to be the Alpha Fish until the next challenge is made.
I would recommend no less than five Tiger Barbs to be kept in any tank. Because of this, Tiger Barbs should never be kept in a 10 gallon tank, it simply isn’t large enough for five fish of their size.
Other behavioral weirdness…
Tiger Barbs sometimes are not very active: They’ll group together at one side of my tank and just stay there for hours, only occasionally chasing one another out of the group.
Also depending on how the water flows around your tank, Tiger Barbs will either ‘head stand’ or ‘tail stand’. I have an upwards water flow at the back of my largest tank and a downwards one at the front, so when resting the Tiger Barbs will point their nose down at the back and up at the front so they use as little energy as possible. This can be worrying at first and some Web sites and forums will tell you there’s something wrong with your water parameters – and there may be – but not always: I’ve had Tiger Barbs doing this for the whole time I have kept them, while I have had good water parameters and while the Barbs have been 100% healthy. I think there’s some mis-information out there.
Conclusions on the fish
If I were able to make my choice again (a choice made on the bad advice of a fish store), I probably would not have started to keep Tiger Barbs. They are so restrictive that it actually makes it difficult to keep any other kind of fish, although Giant Danios and Red Serpae Tetra are a possibility.
If you want to keep a species tank (one breed), then the Tiger Barb is probably an awesome fish to have a tank full of, but I wanted to explore the hobby and don’t feel this fish allows me to do that.